SAFETY & TRAINING IN AVIATION
(AERIAL FIREFIGHTING – FIXED WING)
EITHER OUR WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN OR IT IS ME GOING HEAD DOWN
“There is nothing more dangerous than management headed by motivated fools and followed by unmotivated smart”.
“When a blind man guides a blind man, they will fall into a hole.”
Two short phrases to describe the current scene.
The aerial firefighting sector in South Europe, currently without the inexhaustible reservoir of Agricultural Pilots we used to have in the past, is going through a tough generational transition.
Safety and training standards are being seriously compromised due to a generalized short-term, selfish, limited vision, focussed on both Financial and Physical Capital, and neglecting the importance Human Capital has on companies’ health.
It’s going to implode somehow, at some point.
“What does not benefit the hive, is no benefit to the bee”. Marco Aurelio
(Note from the author: if this article does not sound like W.Shakespeare or E.Hemingway, please keep in mind I´m Spanish, and speaking and writing my mind in English is not easy :). I apologize in advance for any language-related error. The original article, in my mother tongue, can be seen here)
Could you imagine Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton entering Formula 1, without having previously been karting world champs when children?
Or without previous participation in other less demanding competitions as Formula Nissan, Formula Renault, or Formula 3000?
Could you imagine a rally driver not knowing the difference between understeer and oversteer or whatever other concepts—technique related to advanced driving?
Mmmm…Nop, that does not usually happen.
Maybe one of those millionaires in the Dakar Rally who might get nothing but some photos for his social media looking like a “Pro”, but it is still quite unlikely.
To become one of the elites in motor racing, one must have been an elite competitor in previous categories and know all the techniques related to advance driving. Even so, if you come out the track, it almost never ends in tragedy.
To become one of the elites in other sports there aren’t any shortcuts and the same story repeats again and again.
Climbing Everest, as a business, with more money than experience, has caused the number of deaths, accidents, and incidents to increase drastically in the last decades, even if technology has progressed noticeably since the beginning of this activity.
Genetic load + early specialization + hard training = easy combat
If one of the variables goes down, then the others must balance to equalize the equation. If two of the variables are low it doesn’t matter how much of the third they have, the result will be difficult combat.
In the world of aviation, pilots handle machinery with a value of no less than 30M€, landing and taking off at +250kms/h, flying at more than 10,000m above the ground, and carrying at least 100 passengers (our families amongst them).
In Aerial Firefighting, our machines worth more than 3M € and are capable of flying at speeds exceeding 300 km/h. Unlike automobiles, these aircraft move three-dimensionally, brushing against treetops, over rugged terrains, operating sometimes from isolated water sources or poorly prepared runways, surrounded by smoke, power lines, adverse weather conditions and coordinating the operation with several aircraft in the area.
A freak show of the modern sky that could make some infamous scenes of World War II’s aviation look like a walk in the park. If you make a mistake, you have a high chance of it becoming a misfortune.
So what could be more demanding than the activity described in the field of aviation?
Without a doubt, not many activities could become as demanding and specialized as Aerial Firefighting.
The non-specialized public might believe that the standards of pilots’ basic training, operational training, and safety, must be out of this world.
The best of each cohort and the most well trained in all maneuvers – the “Navy Seals” of the air.
Well… “Au contraire, mon frére”. With a few exceptions of companies that truly invest in training and safety, “Ab Initio” instruction, in the old continent, moreover in the South, it’s shameful. Poorly paid, and it´s not rare to find students who have just finished their training period to straight away become instructors.
We do not only have the best nor the most experienced to train our future pilots to focus on recovery from unusual attitudes, basic aerobatics or real emergencies management (it is hard to believe that some instructors out there don’t go beyond stall approaches, neglecting unusual attitudes and recovery – the equivalent to a course of advanced driving for professional drivers). Instead, we have rookies as models for our future generation.
There have been quite a few fatal accidents in airlines related to conflicts between computers, speeds, angles, and sensors. The aircraft stalls, it dives, the poor crew looking like an ape armed with an AK47, shaking the stick as if it was a claw machine, flaps up, flaps down, willy-nilly and of course not having a clue of what is going on in reality (various reports exist from agencies such as NTSB- easily googleable, and for the less curious, various episodes of Mayday: Air Crash Investigations, about this topic).
Their careers have been “so safe” (whatever…) and simulated that they have never felt an airplane shaking, twist in the air, change the sound or get upside down.
In the technological race to mitigate “human error” with the intervention of machines, albeit there have been improvements in multiple aspects, we have neglected those abilities that are basic to aviators. Just like children hypnotized by screens who no longer know how to perform outside of their virtual reality.
Feeling is understanding.
And sometimes, instructors, are basically pilots under training themselves on an unconscious incompetence stage, teaching others, at the mercy of the schools’ economic interests
What could you teach if you just arrived? 🙁
In light of this scenario, hoping that aspiring professional pilots graduate with acceptable safety standards knowing what to do and what not to do during a real emergency (such as on an upset), it´s a utopia.
In the most favoring scenario, they would have practiced “stall approaches” and won’t stutter when communicating over the radio, turning the English proficiency ICAO level 4 into something similar to the English level of our famous soccer player and national pride, Sergio Ramos.
Awesome panorama. (Irony mode: OFF).
Following the initial training, once approaching companies hiring processes and operational training, the situation doesn’t improve since many organizations don’t rectify these misgivings.
The pilots hiring process adapts to the industry needs and the standards vary very much.
In times of low demand for pilots, companies act as if they were about to hire the entire crew of NASA’s Space Shuttle, magnifying greatly the operation, which is exaggerated, but at least it doesn’t compromise safety.
On the contrary, worse is when in periods of high demand, the funnel gets wider and anything goes through. The pilots that before then would not be allowed to act even as ground operators (with all due respect to Ground Ops), now pass on to be the CR9’s and Messi’s of the air and companies die for them.
Even one of the companies has already started selling class ratings as a quick way to make cash, in order to compensate for the poor economic situation they are going through, due to questionable management.
This is something unprecedented in the European aerial firefighting scene, in which to date, in the worst-case scenario a new pilot had to sign a bond that carried outrageously high clauses and 2 years commitment, but nobody paid to fly.
Both activity and aircraft (single crew, manual, low-level flying, and high accident rate), require a series of skills, abilities, knowledge, and training, of great complexity and specialization that to date, no office gurú dared to question.
The Dunning-Kruger effect. There is nothing more dangerous than a motivated fool
Well, now they are not only questioning it but promoting the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is defined as “a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.
“In 2011, David Dunning wrote about his observations that people with substantial, measurable deficits in their knowledge or expertise lack the ability to recognize those deficits and, therefore, despite potentially making error after error, tend to think they are performing competently when they are not: “In short, those who are incompetent, for lack of a better term, should have little insight into their incompetence—an assertion that has come to be known as the Dunning–Kruger effect”
When the high spheres (or postholders wearing suits and styling hair gel of the upper floors) feel their thrones threatened by insecurities and their own shortcomings, they do not designate the most capable for the operational responsibility positions, they look for the opposite profile.
They end up giving wings and motivation to the least capable, simply because it is easier to handle and represent less of a threat.
Having said that, as dangerous as a fool motivated in a powerful position, is a group of unmotivated “followers” who look the other way as long as they have their immediate basic comforts covered.
It is a form of selfishness, with the aggravating of full consciousness. The “fool” has enough being a fool, and in their defense, I have to say, they are less aware in general.
Following again Marco Aurelio and the Stoic Philosophy
“What does not benefit the hive, is no benefit to the bee”
When everyone, motivated-fools, and selfish-smarts, fall into the hole and stabs in the back come as in “Game of Thrones”, they start crying foul.
A Chronicle of a Death Foretold. You let the fox into the chicken coop when you had the keys to the yard. You deserve it.
Human Capital loss
Along these lines, not only does it stop fostering excellence and valuing Human Capital, but mediocrity can get to be tolerated due to contractual needs. Déjà Vu feeling here, a similar scenario of low-cost airlines, which, by lowering costs and paying peanuts to pilots, have turned airplanes into “flying urban buses”, improving connectivity at the cost of making the service significantly worse.
When you have personally attended funerals of colleagues.
When the manufacturer of the aircraft you fly for a living sponsors a program like this, in which the children of deceased aviators who perished in the activity with our most popular firefighting model, are financially helped towards their education.
When Social Security contemplates a reduction in the ordinary retirement age for the aerial work pilot due to exceptionally painful, dangerous, toxic or unhealthy nature and high morbidity or mortality rates.
When you know that aerial firefighting has nothing to do with airlines flying, as it is not a semi-automated two-pilot operation, in which a highly experienced Commander will compensate for the 1st Officer’s initial inexperience when hired for peanuts and paying himself for the aircraft type rating.
Then you realize that it is not a fu****g joke and that the consequences of prostituting aviation in passenger transport, makes the experience of flying more gross and uncomfortable, but in our case, in addition to discrediting an entire sector, IT KILLS.
And in this context, it’s when unsuitable “professionals” sneak through one of the holes of the Gruyere cheese (SMS courses are useful sometimes!). Knowing their limitations, they develop the fine art of opportunism and deceit, – by means of flattery to the bosses and false appearances of qualities that they do not have in reality. Unavoidably they will end up reaching towards phantom roles and sucker positions, where nobody knows what they really do. Or alternatively, they will get into training/safety regardless of their skills and experience, to get extra bucks, status, certain work stability, or just a bit of everything.
Therefore, two types of professionals are created.
In the words of the writer Nassim Taleb:
The first category is “the academics”. Reports writers, commentators, and the analysts of the top floors, the ones who study future events and delight with books and papers (in our case we will change books and papers for emails and operational / safety groups on WhatsApp).
The second category is formed by practitioners, hands-on employees, who instead of only studying future events, try to understand how things react to volatility during real-world operations. (Normally they are too busy to write books, articles, equations or theories, perform speeches, and to be recognized by the Very Honorable and Constipated Members of the Ruling Elite, and end up writing only as a responsibility exercise when there is no other choice and the situation is severe).
In other words, there are two well-defined trends of thoughts:
1-The “Safety Theoretical-Absolutists”
2-The “Safety Real-Relativists”
(Wisdom of crowd-Practitioners)
1-The Theoretical-Absolutist (from this point on known as T.A)
The T.A. try to position themselves above the rest using two basic pillars:
A-The Master Plan Theory (In the form of Standard Operational Procedures, Operations Manual, Bulletins, Operational and Informative Notices, etc…)
-There is a M.P. -Master Plan, Strategic Plan, or G.I.P – Guide for the Idiot Pilot, (How they love acronyms!), created and sometimes copied by the pseudo-academics, in the form of S.O.P., O.M., Operational and Informative Notices, etc…
-The Plan must be implemented to the group (for its own good and to fulfill the requirements imposed by the authority.
-If anyone opposes, they are; bad people, toxic or stupid.
-Whatever evidence puts into question the Master Plan, must be immediately discarded and fought from the opposite extreme.
-Never, under any circumstances, must it ever be acknowledged that the Master Plan has failed. The Master Plan worked well, but the team didn’t follow it or they didn’t interpret it correctly, because they are basically idiots (written in prose, with words that hurt less). It would have worked if it hadn’t been by the “bad guys” who boycotted it. The Master Plan truly works, let’s try it again but this time, let’s go bigger.
B-The bad apple theory
-The mega-complex systems that form the aviation organizations would be perfect, if not for the erratic behavior of some untrustworthy people – or just plain stupid (bad apples), who create procedural drifts.
-Human factors cause accidents: Human Error (recently it has been recalled as loss of situational awareness) can be found as the root cause in more than two-thirds of their safety events.
-Accidents or safety events occur in their majority due to Human Factors and in the form of inevitable surprises or foreign elements to the current organization.
The T.A. will impart keynote speeches about the risk and its mitigation not having once risked his life beyond that time they went to an amusement park to get a ride in the rollercoaster.
Their risk assessments are founded on the grandpa stories of “Perdido key battle”…They are all proud of their numerous endorsements on SMS and AVSEC which will them act as the right hand for the Accountable Manager or CEO, at work (and during bar time, paddle tennis sessions, etc…)
They love risk matrices, their favorite colors are red, yellow, and green, and on occasion, they might reach an orgasm when pronouncing expressions such as “tolerable range”.
They demonize front line practitioners during CRM and Safety courses, throwing derogatory sentences such as; “those guys think they can put out a fire by themselves” and blah, blah, blah…showing a few photos or videos while bad-mouthing their coworkers who, regardless if they worked well or badly, were there, therefore deserving respect, instead of being on a comfy office chair.
The most important thing is individual well-being. If I have to be a straw man, then so be it. If I have to be a puppet, then that too. If they call me stupid, whatever, I have earned my bread today and that’s all I care about.
If I have to take a job that I am not prepared to take and that morally doesn’t correspond to me, of course, I will accept it.
Money first, even it goes to the detriment of the safety and reputation of the whole sector.
“As long as I reach my desired retirement income, whatever happens on the aerial fire-fighting industry, is somebody else’s remit”.
Better not to get in trouble
Another classic behavior of T.A.; “why are you going to over-complicate your life if you have easier options, and in the end, it doesn’t matter, the fire will die out when it has to die out”.
Well…Easy to say when you spend your time behind desks or on inactive bases instead of spending time on actual fires. And the one who supposedly complicates himself is the one who in reality is making the most to keep contracts and expand on new ones.
The T.A. is an ardent Defensor of the S.O.P. (Standard Operational Procedures) and manuals in general as the only safe way to operate on aerial firefighting, being this operation, ironically, the least standard and the most volatile that I know to date. Each mission is different.
The T.A. or their exemplary office subordinates will send dozens of irrelevant updates on their favorite manuals, demanding instant acknowledgment, as if everyone worked sitting down from 9 am to 5 pm and being out of home for 24h a day wasn’t hard enough as it is.
Their limited vision, only allows them to see S.O.P’s and other manuals as a “Criminal Code”, source of endless accusations in case of safety events, of course, attributable most of the times to human factors (their second favorite concept after tolerable range), or in other words, to the pilot’s stupidity.
The T.A. makes me think of the Monkey Paradigm – when they have the opportunity they preach: “Don’t do it, it’s never been done like that, beware of the consequences”.
The operative professional is criminalized and stigmatized in groups, emails, and lectures (the preacher doesn’t know why it is still done this way, but it must continue to sound categorical and blunt).
Repetition generates adherence and permanency, but neither progress nor better levels of competence. On the other hand, the controlled exposure of healthy doses of stress and discomfort, plus the constant questioning, do generate progress. But the T.A. ignores this and therefore, rejects it.
“You don’t know what you don’t know, while you find yourself in a phase of unconscious incompetence”, and there are a few that will only leave that phase in a very specific moment of their lives: ironically when they die.
The T.A. is also the advocate of the Company Safety Policy that appears in the Safety Management Manual, which so happens to be the same cut-and-paste for the majority of operators and Training Organizations.
To sum up, the T.A. believes that knowledge is concentrated (of course in him or his entourage), that the answers must be given from top to bottom, by the same entourage, as the group is ignorant and incapable.
Their vision is based on pseudo-academic experience, distributed in a planned way, officially (only official channels can be used discouraging spontaneity in the form of non-official contribution), the information is thrown as a unidirectional imposition, from top to the bottom, (Ivory Tower) sometimes in an obvious way, and other times hid amongst false improvement systems that are filtered by the T.A.
This vision is described by Thomas Sowell in his book “The Vision of the Anointed”
2-The Real-Relativist (From now on known as R.R.)
The R.R. understands that safety does not fall under a binary or dichotomic system. Good or bad. Dangerous or safe. It neither can be categorized using only 3 colors; red, yellow and green.
The R.R. considers that the quality and quantity of training, combined with hormetic doses of risk, influence, modify, and individualize the levels of safety, reducing danger and putting risks into perspective. There is not a single concept of safety that is standard, rigid, and infallible. The dose makes the poison.
The one who exposes himself the least is not the safest, very much to the contrary, safer involves doing more in general.
The one who trains more and better by exposing himself consciously and properly (see Maslow’s Pyramid of Competence) to a certain degree of stress and discomfort, most likely will end up performing in a safer manner than the one who remains in the “safety bubble” or comfort zone.
“Why using this scooping point (to load water) which is 2000ft higher, where the way in and the way out are tricky, and distance available is limited?”
“Isn´t it easier to continue working from the nice and huge lake we have just a couple of miles ahead?”
I have been asked this question quite a few times.
Short answer: “For your safety, even if you don’t understand it right now”.
Long answer; in a debriefing, explaining the graph below:
The Graph represents “The performance improvement” VS “Discomfort exposure level”, has the form of an inverted “U”.
In correspondence with the rise in exposure, performance rises more or less parallel until reaching an optimal point that we can call “Overreaching or Sweetspot”. That’s where you want to be, like Nirvana! From there on, performance and safety begin a dangerous downfall where we don’t want to lean over too much. We just want to know it’s there, like Hell!
The key is identifying the point of inflection where more stops being better as well as maintaining the balance at the apex of the curve.
If you have reached that point of implication and commitment, probably between other remarkable attributes and traits, you will have an introspective vision to know if you are about to start descending the dangerous fall.
If that is not the case or if in doubt, you should be honest enough to yourself to approach one of your pairs in order to get an objective opinion. We all have an “alter ego” who can tell us what they really think even if it is not exactly what we would like to hear.
If this internal debate hasn’t even emerged yet, quite likely you are still in the earlier stages and “The Sweet Spot” still far away.
In a flight period that entails 20 scoops/drops, we won’t do all 20 under max demand and in the highest range of our capabilities, (remember the dose makes the poison) but at the least, we will make 2 or 3 performing within our higher range.
Think of running or fitness training, if you always maintain 60% of your max. HR, after a while you will be wasting time. We need peaks of intensity, HIIT and sprints, going to 80-90% of your max. HR for your periods of time. Then your body and mind will overcompensate, making physiological adaptations available for the next training session as they both expect we might need to run even faster or lift a heavier weight.
Try to get in trouble. Serious, but not terminal, occasional, trouble.
Here I need to destroy the beauty of the generic meaning of the phrase, by specifying that in aviation we should do it under the right supervision.
We should aim for a Guided Heuristic attitude.
In the long run, these simple but deep hints are essential for progress and performance improvement.
Knowledge and Safety are vague concepts
The R.R. understands that both knowledge and safety are vague concepts.
An acrobat from Cirque Du Soleil can operate in a safe manner performing multiple stunts at 10m above the ground, safer than an individual with no specialization performing a simple backflip on the floor.
Sean D. Tucker can safely operate his complex aerobatic biplane Challenger during an airshow routine, whereas a recently graduated Private Pilot during a simple flight in a Cessna 152 can get in trouble.
Marc Márquez is probably safer competing at 350km/h at Qatar racing circuit than a 16 years old youngster crossing Madrid city center on a scooter. Besides, not everyone can be acrobats from Cirque Du Soleil, not Sean D. Tucker, nor Marc Marquez (sorry Valentino, as much as you get mad about it, at whatever we do, there will always be someone who is more talented, skillful, and will perform better. Its life and its statistics on an 8 billion people world).
There are potentially dangerous scenarios socially accepted, and other potentially safe scenarios that are not accepted due to unconscious incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t know).
The R.R. believes that a correct and conscientious selection of staff is necessary and can save costly training processes later on, to try to prove the T.A. key argument; “we are all the same and we can all, with the necessary training, play piano, ride waves, or fly aircraft proficiently”
Ehmm…nop, sorry. I did not develop musical intelligence while I was at a cognitive plasticity phase, and no matter how much I train now with the best pianist and the best musical software, my fingers will never stop looking like sausages whacking the keyboard…If I want to show respect to truly talented people playing piano, I wouldn’t call that playing piano.
Not even if I dress from head to toe by Billabong and I buy the latest model of VW California with a pop-up roof, will I ever be a true surfer.
While we were kids, the pianist was probably attending daily piano lessons, the surfer was living by the beach with his father who was also a surfer, and I was flying R/C aircraft and flying on my father’s knees who was also a pilot.
Put lipstick on a pig, still a pig. A video sometimes can speak a million words.
Genetics predispose but rarely are a determinant factor
What certainly will be determinant, is that some abilities are either learned as part of a common plan working on both fine and gross motor skills, together with activities encouraging multiple intelligence at an early age or when you are older things get over-complicated. The fact you might successfully pass a coordination test at your medical check-up doesn’t make you suitable or safe to perform as firefighting or ag-pilot.
If it is a hobby, trying outside of your area of expertise, could be fun and recommendable.
Hen it comes to a job that needs such abilities as a survival mechanism, not having developed sufficient spatial intelligence or body kinesthetic, showing bad coordination between limbs (hands and feet – gross motor control), or poor emotional intelligence, more than a professional intrusion, it becomes an act of ignorance by the person who tries it.
The reason being, many times, could be chasing a social status, but above all, it is irresponsibility by those who let it happen, due to comfort or complicity in a poorly managed operation.
There could be cases where individuals, with a deficient development in those abilities, have obtained a license from a school of questionable ethics, due to the simple fact of having 60.000€ in the bank and prove they won’t crash while flying a docile school aircraft (the same might apply to some simulator-based ratings).
Later on, due to certain companies’ contractual needs, without even completing a flight test to verify those basic abilities, not even a personal interview by a specialist, nor a few calls to compare his supposed experience; they get the job!. And once inside, training and safety departments could act as incompetent puppets whose strings are held by non-aviator managers.
Once the pilot struggles (surprise, surprise!), they will try to solve the problem with tons of costly training, buffet style, “all you can train”, so as not to destabilize the system now that they need staff to fulfill staff shortage after committing to certain contracts.
But it does not work like that if we want it to work. Some pilots will never get it and won’t belong here, lets be honest. Of those, some will be honest to themselves and their families and will move on into something else, where they fit better. Others won’t, and lack of safety and lack of proficiency, or both, will be dragged forever time, therefore harming our industry.
If an image is worth a thousand words, this video explains such concepts; not everyone is the same, again this is just for humor and only lasts 4 minutes.
The opposite of fragile is not robust, it is anti-fragile. Something that simply resists certain stress or volatility is robust. Something that is strengthened from that same stress or volatility is anti-fragile. What does not kill you makes you stronger.
The R.R. also thinks that a professional pilot involved in such volatile missions, as eventful and unorganized as aerial wildfire missions, must be part of a truly anti-fragile training system, that strengthens and nurtures from a continuous dose of micro errors of little consequences, while performed in a controlled environment under the right supervision and guidance (See concepts Fragility, Robustness, and Anti-fragility by Taleb).
In the long run, this will be safer than simply following without question, a generic and theoretical “Masterpiece” S.O.P / O.M. created by the T.A., which is the greatest expression of fragility in the world of the professional operators.
<<People who pursue to develop their strengths with the modern gym machines can come to use them with lots of weight, but will be unable to lift a heavy rock, and will lose a fight with whoever has trained in such a real environment. Their strength will only work in a specific domain, and this domain does not exist in the real world>>. -Nassim Taleb.
The R.R. realizes that all the companies’ safety policies that they’ve worked on are just identical copy and paste and only represent empty words arranged according to what the rules indicate to prevent non-compliance with the authorities.
Sadly, I’ve seen at least 5 that coincide in 90% of their content, and at present, I read them without interest because it lacks any sort of coherence with the real operations hence, credibility.
This other video portrays what is probably my Hollywood favorite scene, the interaction between a Theoretical-Absolutist (blonde guy) with a Real-Relativist (Matt Damon). “The Obsession for degrees vs the real stuff”. It is a must-watch.
The R.R. works under a strong connection to the concept of FLOW, even though they might not know the definition.
Have you ever felt that everything squares, that you are ahead of the activity, and that productivity is outrageously high? And not necessarily in aviation, it could be while you write, while you play music working out, or while developing any other skill. If you have felt that, you were in “Flow”, or in “the zone”.
Surely you have felt the opposite, that nothing squares as it is supposed to, that you are behind and that the muses aren’t on your side.
This marvelous experience called “flow”, described in detail in the book “Flow” by its greatest exponent, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, it is not random, it is something to be chased, to train, and is directly related with the last tier in Maslow’s Competence Hierarchy; Unconscious Competence, where the instinctive and the hyperconscious mix.
“It is an optimal state of consciousness, a state where you feel youbest and perform your best. More specifically, the term refers to those moments of rapt attention and total absorption, when you get so focused on the task at hand that everything else disappears. Action and awareness merge. Your sense of self vanishes. Your sense of time distorts (either, typically, speeds up; or, occasionally, slows down). And throughout, all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, go through the roof”. – Steven Kotler.
12 hours can go by in front of a computer as if they were 2 hours, or you can spend 3 hours doing 70 firefighting water scoops/drops and feel natural, no great effort needed. Matrix bullet Dodge, a graphic way of describing it. To have control over one’s mind means that, literally, everything that happens can be a source of happiness and consequently, if what you do makes you happy, you will end up mastering the activity. Steve Jobs explains it well, in a very motivational brief speech.
If the concept of “Flowing” interests you, Steven Kotler is another reference, specialized in it and tailored to extreme sports. This is all described in his book “The Rise of Superman, decoding the science of ultimate human performance”.
The bad barrel theory
In a simplistic vision by the Theoretical-Absolutist, The mega-complex systems that form the aviation organizations would be perfect, if not for the erratic behavior of some untrustworthy people – or just plain stupid (bad apples), who create procedural drifts, pointing at “Human Factors” as the root of most safety events.
On the contrary, from a more realistic point of view, it is the barrel that could be rotten or in a bad state and therefore contaminating the good (by nature) apples.
Not all the organizations, actually very few, have sufficient maturity and experience in the scope of safety as to do an introspection exercise and evaluate themselves. Presuming a selection process that is serious and professional, in which candidates are eliminated if they do not meet the requirements of experience and attitude, workers of a company will not be inherently ethical nor unethical, but instead, they are influenced by the corporate culture that surrounds them.
We should assume that, excluding violators that should be filtered and spot during selection processes, people don’t go to work with the firm intention to perform poorly or cause an accident.
Wisdom of crowds as the main source of knowledge
The Wisdom of Crowds is contrary to systems based on a “single focal point”, anachronistic, autocratic and negative, that are funded on “micromanagement”, where one sole boss tells everyone what they should do in whatever field of knowledge, at anytime (for the “good” of everyone).
A leader from a modern organization, advanced and healthy, will make better overall decisions based on group intelligence and experience, by delegating safety matters to a counseling group called Safety Review Board. This could, and it should be the same with other departments, financial, operational, etc.…
A Safety Review Board would be formed by an experienced and operational front line crew, that must also be able to gain respect by the group so they organization can obtain inputs and real safety indicators in order to achieve the ultimate goal: Reaching a safety status that is truly generative, proactive, preventive, predictive and not only reactive.
Two reference books that are based on this trend of thought.
In short, the R.R. believes that knowledge and safety are vague concepts and answers emerge from collective wisdom (those who are truly implicated in real operations), based on real experiences, in a way not necessarily planned or official, in the form of spontaneous interactions. There are no bad apples, only bad barrels in a poor state of conservation that contaminate the apples in it.
Activity Flow Diagram
DOXASTIC COMMITMENT AS INSTRUCTION & SAFETY PHILOSOPHY
Doxastic Commitment- Skin in the Game
Even though it has not been explicitly defined until this point, it is the essence or the cornerstone of this reflection.
It can be defined in a few words as “a type of belief that goes beyond charlatanism and with which we are sufficiently committed as to assume certain personal risks”.
If you did not believe in what you preach, you will not set forth to instruct others nor teach about something that you cannot demonstrate while training (unless you are an unconscious incompetent), as well as in safety. From this statement we can deduce the following:
Soul in the game – You must only believe predictions and opinions by those who committed themselves to a certain belief, and had something to lose, in a way to pay a cost in being wrong. Anyone involved in an action that may cause harm to others (even probabilistically) must be exposed to that harm regardless of the context.
In a loud sector (charlatanism), we must learn to differentiate signals from background noise.
“Only those who risk their skin are entitled to make decisions for others”
To discuss Risk Assessments, first, you need to understand risks. Certain risks cannot be deciphered theoretically from a comfy seat in an air-conditioned office. It is necessary to have lived through them and continue living through them.
The Management Dilemma; Protection VS Production has been present for a long time, in which an excess of safety can bring bankruptcy, and to the contrary, too much fixation on the short-term benefits can lead to the termination of the operation due to unsafety, accidents, etc…
The scale shown above is nowadays becoming more unbalanced than ever and the vocational professional (Real Relativist) is becoming an “endanger species”, harder to find (or willing to migrate to other work-related fields).
This is due to:
-The dubious decisions of certain “experts”.
-The fast-growing dehumanizing tendency where human capital is often neglected.
-The generalized “anti-aviation” management in the aviation industry where all it matters is financial capital.
-The inaccessibility and disconnection from reality of certain managers.
-The ineffectiveness of some of those who represent us when they do not understand or do not want to understand the problem (as their salary and comfort depend on them not understanding),
-The passivity, disunity, and selfishness of us pilots.
In many cases, the front line pilot feels like on a journey across the desert and ends up quitting its essence; always work under high standards regardless of the circumstances, not hiding nor having to use endless filters to avoid “annoying the anointed”.
The dictatorship of standardization and commodity brings plenty of side-effects:
Color disappears, grace becomes hard to find and everything ends up grey, once gone through the corporate filter.
The problem with always being a conformist is that when you try to change the system from within, it’s not you who changes the system; it’s the system that will eventually change you. Same as with a freelancer who passes the entrance exams for a full-time job for the administration and the system itself ends up turning him into a lazy, ineffective and incompetent person.
To Accountable Managers, C.E.O´s and others on top of the food chain:
Please keep in mind that even more important than the obsession for financial capital is to know how to attract human capital. You can get a loan pretty much straight away, but you won´t get a pilot straight away, regardless of his previous experience, to fly perform safely and efficiently in aerial firefighting.
There is a real lack of qualified and trained candidates, and once you find a suitable one, the training and mentoring process could take between 3 to 5 years, if you want them performing in a decent way.
It certainly is quite a costly training process without the guarantee of keeping them and the end of it. Finding one who wants to stay long term its quite rare and most still will want to go to the airlines to wear suits and bars.
A current, proficient pilot with all necessary ratings and experience to meet contract requirements, willing to stay long term in the firefighting industry, could well worth over 100.000€. Wouldn´t it make sense to preserve the current Human Capital to establish a strong basis rather than letting them go constantly?
If we want to progress, we must understand that top talent chooses organizations and not the other way around.
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent exec
ution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”- Aristóteles
Aerial Firefighting is not the airline. Not even close
The highly respectable engineer, pilot, and father of Fly-By-Wire, vice president of Airbus, Bernard Ziegler, in his speech (shown below) can be partly right.
Having said that, our firefighting industry is way different from Mr. Ziegler´s industry, and what our managers should understand is that you could never implement the very same selection framework and pilots training process of a multi-crew, automated flying, into a single-crew, low level, manual, artisan operation, as it is aerial firefighting with Single Engine Air Tankers. I´m sorry Sir, it does not work like that.
They want robots, we need humans.
Safety and training must not be “bribed” or silenced by managers
It may seem like the most profitable option for the managers with an autocratic and short-term mindset, but in the long-run, buying silence, indulgence, passivity, and ineffectiveness, is way more expensive if we keep in mind accidents, incidents, spare parts, lost contracts, inefficient operations, along with the discredit of aircraft and the whole sector.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. (A. Lincoln)
There should always be a state of quarrel and healthy questioning between Management and Safety / Operations, if nothing is questioned, then think twice as you might not be helping yourself, your colleagues, and the whole group you belong.
As pilots, we are educated and indoctrinated to comply with the authority, by promoting blind faith in groups of “pseudo-academics” or “presupposed visionaries”, responsible for solving huge and complex problems from their offices located at the very top of the Ivory Tower.
However, in most cases, these problems are only solved through the group wisdom and critical thinking, who are the ones directly involved in the task
Request safety, demand proficiency, dignify your sector, and watch over the one who watches you. At the end of the day, it will be you sitting in the aircraft while they sit in a comfy air-conditioned office.
As in everything in life, there are exceptions and I should not fall into generalization.
There must responsible training organizations seeing the long run and not only short term rewards. Same with operators, aviators, engineers, etc…
In fact, I know some competent professionals, unchained and committed beyond short-term compensation, there are some Managers with vision and some other one-eyed King Post Holders that in the kingdom of the blind, at least can see something through one eye, which is better than not seeing at all
Moving to a more pessimistic vision, the German physicist Max Planck, said once that “science advances from funeral to funeral,”
Or more specifically:
“A new scientific truth doesn’t convince its opponents and makes them see the light, but rather because their opponents finally die, and a new generation is born and is more familiarized with the new reality”.
This example transferred to our world, where there is a huge resistance to change the well established “classical vision of safety” by the most current vision this article points out, means that the change will occur naturally with generational change: once they pass away.
Until then, we must keep in mind that there are large doses of practical intelligence in each of us and we should not leave knowledge management down to a few experts (or an expert), but instead, actively engage in everything that is really important.
We must look more to ourselves, take responsibility for the group you belong to by encouraging small changes within our reach, and lead by example in our nearby circle – We are the average of the 5 people with whom we interact most.
“I am a believer in the butterfly effect. A small positive vibration can change the entire cosmos.” “I knew the power of a single wish, after all. Invisible and inevitable, like a butterfly that beats its wings in one corner of the globe and with that single action changes the weather halfway across the world.”
That’s just a Hollywood movie quote, but there is a good message for the real world: small changes could lead to huge changes.
The Academic Method is important for progress, but should not bury the Heuristic Method
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, are some examples of relevant historical characters who did not follow the established academic method or standard path, which didn’t prevent them from proving a later overall success.
It is not about moving into fully self-taught aviation, it is about not losing the “unrest mindset”, even if it means doing it outside of the pre-established system created by the “anointed”.
In the hands of capable leaders, both types of profiles, Academics and Practitioners, should not be fully opposed and could complement each other. Obviously, this should happen in the correct ratio, under continuous supervision, and not like now, where front line practitioners, the ones who uphold contracts and don’t hide behind their luxury bubbles, are a minority under the dictatorship of comfort.
The more you are a sucker and get to hang around with professional suckers, the higher you will get on the Hierarchy of the Anointed. Nothing to do with skills or experience.
A true leader creates more leaders, not followers. A true leader protects his “family” of pilots, but never hides far away from the action.
It is not a utopia to think that an intermediate profile is possible, a “renaissance” aviator, capable of using the “Classic Culture” essence, under a more “contemporary “approach.
You can definitely continue to be a front line – Stick and Rudder – aviator and comply with all modern bureaucratic and procedural requests.
Are our current organizations, guided by old school autocratic managers ready to filter and spot Human Capital? Or will they only see what they need to see to prove them right?
Will they see top talent employees as an opportunity to progress and improve, or as a threat to their one-eyed king thrones?
If you recognize yourself on the operational side, you are not alone, you are not freak, nor less safe, even if they try to put it in your head by all means.
The aerial firefighting industry needs you and many just like you, to transmit the important distinguishing marks we are now starting to lose.
We need to push for a change in generation and mentality to prove Max Planck wrong.
If you recognize yourself on the theoretical side, take responsibility and do something to change the course, if not from the front line because it isn’t your vocation, then at least from the offices.
As aviators, and the visible face of the whole aerial firefighting sector, we already have enough stigma inherited unfairly with the Fire Cartel Legacy, to add on top of that, the red-necks label.
Enough is enough.
Like everything in life, nothing is true, nothing is a lie … I am definitely upside down … And in my world, perhaps a utopian one, instruction and safety in aerial firefighting are the other way around.